An Experiment with Basic Income

By Frances Coppola – In 1795, the parish of Speen, in Berkshire, England, embarked on a radical new system of poor relief.

Due to the ruinous French wars and a series of poor harvests, grain prices were rising sharply. As bread was the staple food of the poor, rising grain prices increased poverty and caused unrest.

Concerned by the possibility of riots, the parish decided to provide subsistence-level income support to the working poor. The amounts paid were anchored to the price of bread. Each member of a family qualified for a payment, so the larger the family, the more they received. In effect, it was a system of in-work benefits.

And it worked. The Speenhamland system did relieve poverty and malnutrition, and prevent riots – which was its purpose. Because of this it was widely copied, and Pitt the Younger even tried to write it into national legislation.

But it was not without its problems and its critics. more>


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